Source: New Bern Sun Journal, by Bill Hand
Date: January 26, 2020
The floodplains, they are a-changing.
Both Onslow and Craven
counties are seeing changes in FEMA floodplain maps that will take
effect by June 19. The maps define storm surge and other flooding
possibilities in the area. Among other counties affected are Dare, Hyde,
Beaufort, Pamlico and Pitt counties, all set to go into effect in June.
maps use updated hydraulic analysis and models to determine the chance
of flooding of different areas during serious storms. On the maps, North
Carolina is divided into regions designated as AE, VE, X and Shaded X:
if you fall into either of the first two categories, your home or
business is in an area with a high likelihood of flooding; if you fall
in X or shaded X you are either out of the floodplain, or in a plain
that has a much lower chance of flooding in any given storm.
And, in a nutshell, if you live in an AE or VE area and have a mortgage on your home, you’re probably going to be required to buy flood insurance. It also means that you’ll have to jump some possibly expensive hoops if you want to build or do any significant additions.
There are terms to learn as we continue in this article: Base Flood
Elevation (BFE) for example. To understand the maps, you have to
understand that this is what they determine. BFE is the expected
elevation above sea level at which a particular property can expect to
flood. In most of Craven County, for instance, that level is considered
11 feet. So, if you live on a property that is 6 feet above sea level,
then you’re going to want to find a way to raise your structure so that
the floor and any mechanics attached to it (say, duct work and sewer
pipes) is 5 feet higher if you want to avoid falling into that expected
flood elevation range.
BFE is not actually uniform across the
entire map: some areas, such as narrow rivers, are likely to have higher
flooding than others. Angie Manning, Onslow County Land Use
Administrator said that many areas in the Onslow maps aren’t so much
whether you’re suddenly in a flood zone; rather it is the amount of BFE.
“There are some places that may stay in a flood zone, but go from 7 to
11 feet,” she said.
Then there’s all those mysterious letters: AE,
VE, X and Shaded X – the latter sounding more like something you’d find
slinking about in a comic book rather than anything as droll as a FEMA
•AE: These properties have, annually, a 1 percent chance of
flooding. Most hurricanes won’t result in this happening, but one with a
lot of rain, or that approaches in just the right direction and under
the right circumstances – like 2018′s Florence – are going to turn your
first floor into a wading pool – or worse.
•VE: This is AE on
testosterone. Think of as standing for Velocity, Manning said.
Everything that applies to AE applies here as well. But it also means
the area is prone to heavier wave action and, probably, higher BFE
elevations. The added force of waves was illustrated in 2018 with
Florence when rising waters tore whole porches from houses and burst
open doors despite their being deadbolted along Broad Street in New
• X: According to FEMA models, buildings here are in little danger of flooding: 0.2 percent per year.
• Shaded X: Your buildings and property are reasonably safe – Shaded X is kind of a gray area between AE and X.
In the last two cases, no flood insurance is required.
the past the maps were broken up into “100-year storm” and “500-year
storm” areas, but FEMA has changed the term because, according to
Manning, the term is misleading. “People think it happened in 2018, so
it’ll be another hundred years (before a similar storm strikes again),”
she said. “But it could happen again next year.”
You might feel
like you’ve gotten a raw deal if you are suddenly in an AE or VE zone
but, according to Craven County Planning Planner II Jason Frederick,
it’s good news, in a way. “I think with the flood maps, what you have is
new and better data that comes out.” FEMA “tries to fine tune the flood
boundaries, if you will.” He said that FEMA conducted 600 synthetic
storms to determine how storms would affect different areas.
noted that Hurricane Florence had nothing to do with the how the maps
were made – in fact, the maps have been in existence for a couple of
years. However, he said, Florence reflected the accuracy of the new
maps. “If you were to overlay Florence with the new flood maps, it would
be very accurate,” he said. “Raleigh is to be commended.”
in the AE and VE areas could face more problems than just having to
build new first floors at higher elevations or adding insurance: Onslow
County Commissioner Jack Bright said the changes “really devastates
these property owners… It causes people to have their houses and heat
pumps raised,” he added, to match FEMA floodplain guidelines. If new
structures are built, they will have to be raised – or the owners may
not be able to build at all.
Bright pointed out that many areas that are newly labeled as
floodplain are waterfront. “Because it’s a floodplain property, it
becomes less valuable and the city loses a lot of tax base,” he said.
said that, in some cases, FEMA refuses to allow homeowners to rebuild
in some flood zone areas. “There are properties from Florence where FEMA
has bought the properties through the county, then condemned the
property as far as the building, and stated the property can never be
built on again,” he said. Some residents in Swansboro, he added, were
forced to relocate.
One realtor, Steve Tyson of New Bern, however,
said he has not seen a major change in real estate prices. “It’s going
to impact real estate, but it’s not going to be the end of the world,”
he said. “If people like the neighborhood and the house is priced well,
they’ll buy it.
“I have sold houses in both Fairfield and River
Bend that flooded and sold them after they were fixed up,” he added.
They sold at approximately the same value that they were before. I
thought it would have a big effect, but it wasn’t so much.”
Tyson’s biggest concern is for the people who will be required to purchase flood insurance, but cannot afford it.
insurance can be costly. But even so, county planners as a rule advise
buying it, even if you’re not forced to – and even in you’re in a Shaded
X or X area.
The reason? Floods can’t read.
“The maps are just a statistical probability of flooding,”
Randy Mundt of the N.C. Floodplain Mapping Program stated in an article
recently written by Michelle Wagner for the Carolina Public Press.
“Mother Nature does not read our flood map, and we know that… when we
have more rain than what we’re predicting, you’re going to see flooding
outside of where we map.”
“A flood’s never going to follow the
map,” Frederick said. “It’s going to do what a flood’s going to
naturally do. Water’s always going to run down hill.”
sometimes don’t know is, even if your home is not in that (flood) zone,
you can still get insurance. And the state is pushing for people to get
Shawn Black, who owns Black’s Insurance in New
Bern, said there are differing flood insurance policies, with some
naturally more expensive than others, depending on the condition and
value of the home, where it is located, and how it meets local codes. An
option for flood insurance in X and Shaded X areas is preferred flood
insurance, which costs around $500 annually, though the price rises over
Most flood insurance, she said, covers up to $250,000 on a house and $100,000 on its contents.
to the map changes, “People tend to think the sky is falling, and we
want them to talk to us and research it, not freak out,” she said. Black
noted that anyone worried or interested in insuring their property
should attend a public meeting scheduled by the Neuse River Region Area
Realtors (NRRAR) at the Carolina Colours pavilion, New Bern, from 5:30
to 7:30 p.m. on April 7. A representative of the North Carolina State
Hazard Mitigation office will give an overview of rules and options.
said that the new map has made significant changes in much – but not
all – of Craven County. No houses were added to or removed from the
flood plain in Cove City, Dover or Vanceboro. In unincorporated areas of
the county, more properties were removed (438) than added (331): a net
difference of 107.
Other areas found more properties being added, however:
• River Bend, 61 were added and none removed.
• Trent Woods, 73 were added and 29 removed.
• Havelock, 13 were added and four removed.
• Bridgeton, 53 were added and none removed.
The biggest change is to New Bern were 1,082 buildings were added and only one removed.
The best way to find out your status, Frederick said, is to access the maps online.
A good source for this is https://fris.nc.gov/firs.
“It’s fairly user friendly,” Frederick said. Click the map of North
Carolina and enter your full address in the upper left corner. Shaded
yellow areas are Shaded X; AE is shaded blue; VE is shaded green. On the
right side of the window will be a button titled “Effective.” That is
the current map. To see how you fare come June, click that button to
The planning office can also be reached at 252-636-2146.